Liminality and Practicing Anthropology

The first session I attended at AAA2013 was the NAPA sponsored Liminality and Crossing Boundaries in Applied Anthropology.   My primary motive to attend was to see Nancy Fried Foster‘s paper on participatory design in libraries, but I was delighted that I had the chance to stay for all but the last 2 papers, because as a whole the panel was thought provoking and inspiring.

At the #NAPA Liminality panel being encouraged to ask what is new and to experiment in my practice of anthro #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

If there is IQ and EQ then anthros can provide institutions with solid CQ #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Patricia Wall from #Xerox talking about liminality leading to innovation #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

This is the big takeaway for me from the panel. That the work, and even just the presence of anthropologists in industry and institutional settings creates a liminal space, which in turn is an opportunity for change and innovation.  It’s a powerful frame in which to see ourselves as professionals, and also one that requires responsible thought about what role anthropologists and anthropology should play in effecting institutional change.  Patricia was explicit about her hopes for social science (she was one of at least 2 panelists who pointed out “I am not an anthropologist”) in institutional settings:

Anthros can help orgs find “balance at the edge  of chaos.” help navigate through liminality, make processes viisible #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Maria Bezaitis from #Intel and #EPIC talking now.
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Maria’s energetic presentation pointed even more strongly to the potential for innovation that comes out of persistent and embedded anthropological attention to technology and the processes involved in producing that technology. In particular, we can bring up to people like engineers points about technology and the digital that we, as social scientists, largely take for granted, but not everyone else does:

“The social is always shaping the technological world” @mariabz I think tech and social interact with each other, too #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Digitization changes relationships possible between 1) strangers and 2) people and things #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Technology requires that we become more flexible in thinking about connections #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

“Instrumented products” are also “social products” that facilitate data sharing that people use to build community #AAA2013 @mariabz
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Social Scientists in industry get paid to produce liminality =  opportunities for change #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

I single out these two papers in particular because I think the themes of the potential for change, and the importance of a consistent social science-informed perspective on the processes, technologies, and organizational structures coming from and constituting industry/institutions, is one that also resonated through my own panel.  That is post #3 (which, now that I have called it out, I hope I will actually write).